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What are Digital Twins?

Digital twin technology represents the cutting edge of building management, marrying smart sensors with virtual models to provide property managers with comprehensive control of their physical spaces.

In the 1900s, it was rare for a building to have elevators, but now it’s impossible to imagine a modern office without them —  they're not just an amenity, they're crucial. A building without one is an outlier that actively does a disservice to its users.

Now, the same is true for digital twins. A building without one is working at a loss. But what are digital twins, and why are they so critical for effective building management in the modern world? The answer is significantly more complex than the name implies, so here’s a more granular look at what makes digital twins an invaluable resource for any modern building.

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What is the definition of a digital twin?

Digital twin vs simulation — key differences

What are digital twin use cases?

What are some digital twin examples?

What is the definition of a digital twin?

A digital twin is a virtual replica of a real world building, object, space or system that can update itself in real time. A digital twin combines a detailed model of the object with live sensor data to track what’s going on in the real world, control it remotely, and gather information to control the object more efficiently in the future.

The definition of a digital twin varies depending on where you source it from. The idea itself traces back to the early 2000s from researcher Michael Grieves of Florida Institute of Technology, but it was more properly named in 2010 by NASA’s John Vickers. As Grieves and Vickers themselves put it in 2016:

“The premise driving the model was that each system consisted of two systems, the physical system that has always existed and a new virtual system that contained all of the information about the physical system. This meant that there was a mirroring or twinning of systems between what existed in real space to what existed in virtual space and vice versa. “

IBM also has a succinct definition:

“A digital twin is a virtual representation of an object or system that spans its lifecycle, is updated from real-time data, and uses simulation, machine learning and reasoning to help decision-making.”

Even more simply, as we put it: “A digital twin is a virtual replica of a physical object or process that can update itself in real-time.”

In other words, there’s a real object, a virtual object, and data and information flow between them, allowing for constant updates and remote control. 

Now that you know what a digital twin is, learn how to utilize them by reading "How to Implement a Digital Twin"

Digital twin vs simulation — key differences

Just looking at the definitions of a digital twin, it can be easy to see how it might just seem like “digital twin” is another name for a simulation. But where they differ is that a simulation takes a set of data and extrapolates out from it, while a digital twin uses a constant flow of information to update itself in real time.

Digital twins are also different from building information modeling (BIM), which are digital representations of facilities, installations, or other physical spaces. BIMs are usually 2D floor plans or 3D models and wireframes. These models are generated in order to assist designers, architects, and building managers to visualize what a space will look like either during design phases, or when not physically present onsite.

A digital twin similarly involves a model of a physical space, but it’s not static. The data that comes from the physical location’s sensors means that the model updates in real time, so it always has the most current information.

There are many more differences in creating a digital twin. Learn more by reading our article, "How to Create a Digital Twin"

What are digital twin use cases?

Digital twins are useful in almost every type of building management, from commercial to industrial to residential, as they can be designed to suit each particular facility's needs.

One example would be a modern office building. A digital twin could allow for the remote monitoring and control of all the smart systems that exist within the building — so building managers can easily deploy single use wi-fi access passwords, track entrances and exits, order refills for a connected vending machine, and even fire up the teleconferencing system when people enter a meeting room.

The data from the sensors within a digital twin, combined with detailed 3D models of spaces, and smart AI predictive technologies, allow for building managers to experiment with floor layouts to learn how they affect foot traffic. A retail environment may want to see if changing the position of the checkout helps keep lines short, or an office manager could be interested in a new series of desk layouts. A digital twin would allow them to try those out virtually before committing to them in the real world.

Digital twins also play a key role in the deployment of augmented reality content experiences. For example, Resonai’s Vera platform uses intelligent digital twins to allow users to interact with the physical spaces around them digitally, by taking the information that’s integrated into the digital twin, and augmenting its delivery via smartphone. That could mean directing maintenance crews to a specific computer that’s broken, or helping a patient navigate a large hospital to find their doctor’s office. Cutting down on time spent looking for a specific location means better experiences for visitors and staff alike.

What else can digital twins do? Read "What Are the Benefits of a Digital Twin" to learn more.

What are some digital twin examples?

With help from Resonai, the Moscow Trade Center was able to use a digital twin of its 200,000 square meter floor space to dramatically reduce repair times. With 6,000 tenants and 1,500 service requests a month, they needed a way of quickly and accurately getting the right technician sent to the right place. Using a digital twin connected to a mobile app, tenants are now able to report issues directly through the app, which automatically creates a ticket. The app can then send a repair team, and direct them to the correct location using AR. This has led to a 44% drop in time to complete repairs across the whole space.

Another example is GE, who have heavily invested in digital twin technology for their wind farms. By outfitting their enormous turbines with sensors and establishing digital twins, GE’s engineers have been able to monitor component temperatures during periods of high winds, which led to new algorithms for predicting engine temperatures from less data, as well as a better understanding of how the motors perform under strain. The whole system is monitored throughout the turbines, allowing for automatic adjustments on the fly for peak efficiency at any given time using real time analytics and machine learning.

Read more about digital twins in action in our article, "5 Ways Digital Twins Are Revolutionizing The Construction & Real Estate Industries"

Digital twins are powerful tools for managing buildings, improving processes, and predicting future behaviors using machine learning. Establishing a digital pair can radically boost the efficiency of almost any space, thanks to its combination of instantaneous real time feedback and AI powered predictive modeling.

Are you ready to learn more? Get in touch with Resonai today and set up a free demonstration.

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